Some new mu­si­cians re­leased tra­di­tional al­bums of im­pres­sive vi­tal­ity, writes Siob­hán Long

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - MUSIC2006 -

THE trou­ble with a per­ma­nent high is that you even­tu­ally crave a downer. That’s how it feels in the world of tra­di­tional mu­sic, where mu­si­cian­ship is at an all-time high. Record­ings are com­ing fast and fu­ri­ous from all cor­ners, and the debu­tantes are as likely to be on con­ver­sa­tional terms with ex­cel­lence as their more road-weary pre­de­ces­sors.

Whis­tle player Brian Hughes cut a sharp path­way through a sparkling reper­toire with his De­cem­ber re­lease, Whirl­wind (Cló Iar Chon­nachta). It’s a col­lec­tion that begs re­peat vis­its, all the bet­ter to ac­cli­ma­tise the eardrums to the on­slaught of pris­tine whis­tle play­ing. The lis­tener’s pa- tience is re­paid in spade­fuls by Hughes’s mi­cro­scopic at­ten­tion to de­tail, with poly­math Garry Ó Bri­ain ham­mock­ing his play­ing with man­do­cello, key­boards and gui­tar.

Kila’s piper, Eoin Dil­lon, and Cork fid­dle player Edel Sul­li­van are an­other pair of debu­tantes who stilled the ether­with their qui­etly con­fi­dent solo CDs. Dil­lon’s The Third Twin (Kíla Records), re­veals a piper whose time has come to emerge from Kíla’s crowded au­ral land­scape. Sul­li­van’s In the Time Of (Claddagh) came out of nowhere but reg­is­tered high on trad’s Richter scale, with its un-

clut­tered fid- dle lines.

Fire­brands So­las and Lú­nasa are the clos­est we’ve come in search of a Planxty and a Bothy Band for the 21st cen­tury. Sea­mus Egan’s con­glom­er­ate might shift in its line-up from time to time, but So­las’s 10 birth­day cel­e­bra­tion, Re­union (Com­pass) cap­tured the band’s sheer vi­va­cious­ness and mag­pie ten­den­cies ef­fort­lessly. Like­wise, Lú­nasa el­e­vated their trade­mark bass lines to yet higher plains with Sé (Com­pass), a snap­shot of a band with an ap­petite ev­ery bit as vo­ra­cious as it ever was for chart­ing un­known ter­ri­tory.

So­las’s Winifred Horan and Mick McAu­ley lost lit­tle time in pur­su­ing their own par­tic­u­lar path­ways through the tra­di­tion with the gor­geously un­der­stated Serenade (Com­pass). Horan’s fid­dle was given free rein to stretch to its full po­ten­tial on the un­clut­tered can­vass of this duet col­lec­tion.

Zoe Con­way re­leased a sur­pris­ingly stark sec­ond album, The Horse’s Tail (Tara Mu­sic). Con­way’s vir­tu­os­ity as a fid­dler is a given, but her com­po­si­tional tal­ents were brought into sharp re­lief on this bare-boned record­ing, the high­light of which is the ti­tle track. Cathal Hay­den re­leased a su­perb live album as well, Live in Belfast (Gael Linn), al­though he’s long over­due a re­turn visit to the record­ing stu­dio to cap­ture more of that trade­mark swinge­ing bow hand in all its ac­ro­batic glory.

Muire­ann Nic Amh­laoibh, Danú’s singer and flute player, re­leased a spell­bind­ing solo CD, Fáinne An Lae/Day­break (Com­pass), her in­ter­pre­ta­tive skills hint­ing at a vo­cal­ist who’s barely scratched the sur­face. Sligo band Téada swash­buck­led their way through Inné Amárach (Gael Linn) with a swathe of un­likely tune pair­ings, imag­i­na­tively in­vig- orated by ar­range­ments that com­ple­mented but never cos­set­ted the mu­sic in cot­ton wool.

The year’s un­ques­tion­able stand­out was as un­likely as it was long over­due. Paul Brock and Enda Sc­ahill brought two of­ten-ma­ligned in­stru­ments to­gether and let the sparks fly. Their melodeon and banjo traced in­tri­cate path­ways through time-worn tunes res­cued from the obliv­ion of their orig­i­nal Ir­ish-Amer­i­can record­ings, dat­ing from the 1930s. As a one-time self-con­fessed loather of both ac­cor­dion and melodeon, this hack ad­mits that Humdinger not only raised the hairs on the back of the neck, but pos­i­tively starched them in po­si­tion for weeks af­ter their first ex­po­sure.

A strik­ing pat­tern in this year’s re­leases is the sheer vol­ume of su­perb record­ings emerg­ing from Com­pass Records. Isn’t it in­ter­est­ing that it takes a Nashville-based la­bel to cap­ture the essence of so many of our sub­lime mu­si­cians in full flight?

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